Culture and communication: identifying and overcoming the barriers in caring for non-English-speaking German patients

Officially, Australian society recognizes the diversity of languages and cultures that make up the population, and encourages respect for different traditions and beliefs. However, the reality is often far from this ideal, especially in healthcare, where those who do not speak English can find themselves at a disadvantage. This study explored the experiences of such patients. It aimed to capture the experiences of six older German-born women who had undergone planned admission to hospital. A qualitative descriptive design informed by phenomenology was applied through the means of semi-structured, in-depth interviews that were tape-recorded and transcribed. Three main themes were identified: ‘nursing for the masses’, ‘nursing the individual’ and ‘communication and language’. This paper is concerned with the third theme only. Findings related to ‘communication and language’ are presented in terms of three sub-themes: barriers, interpreters and culture. Findings demonstrate the effects that lack of communication can have on patients who already feel vulnerable and anxious. While doctors booked interpreters for meetings with patients, nurses did not do so and consequently misunderstandings, frustrations and unsafe practice occurred. Language and communication issues far outweighed considerations about culture. These findings challenge nurses to respond to and address the mutual frustration of language barriers between themselves and patients.

Author(s): Raymond Eckhardt, Sarah Mott, Sharon Andrew

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